- 10 Aug 23
The Earth is heading for disaster – and to prevent it, we need immediate investment in climate transition. It is happening in the US. It is happening in China. Ireland should aim to lead the way in Europe…
Up here on Hog Hill there are no unearthly factors, in life or in death. What we see is what we have and when it’s done it’s done. Our lives, in which we invest so much, and which seem so marvellously important to us, are but evanescent flares in the dark skies of infinity.
The wistful certainty that the universe existed for millions of years before we were born and will continue to exist for millions of years after we die is elegantly captured in the word Finitude, which came to mind when we heard of the sad death of Sinéad O’Connor.
“Our brief finitude is a beautiful spark in the vast darkness of space. So we should live the fleeting day with passion and, when the night comes, depart from it with grace.”
These lines were written in 2004 by Richard Holloway in Looking in the Distance: The Human Search for Meaning.
Holloway was once the Bishop of Edinburgh. But he resigned all such positions in 2000, declaring himself agnostic and an “after-religionist” with strong faith in humanity.
In the absence of certainty about gods or an afterlife, he concludes:
“I, who walked the hills, I, who saw white hares dancing in the snow on Lammermuir, should be grateful for life, even as it passes.”
These are times of darkness rather than light.
Soon, there may be no more snow and so, no more white hares, since their whiteness is an evolutionary response to the snows of a Scottish winter.
Just as there will be no more polar bears, no more salmon, no more ash trees, no more wild geese…
We teeter on the edge of climate apocalypse.
In tandem, we have an ever-intensifying war in Ukraine where Russia looks increasingly likely to deploy and use tactical nuclear weapons, egged on by North Korea. This is truly an axis of evil.
This war has already seen rapid development of drone warfare and autonomous weapons systems. These are the deadliest aspect of the coming AI revolution – but they are very far from its only likely impact on the world we know.
The welter of challenges is beyond daunting. But we can’t bury our heads in the sand and hope they’ll pass, or that someone will magic them away.
That’s not going to happen.
And here’s the rub: we know what should be done but we want someone else to do it, preferably decisively, and to pay. We want change – but also that everything remains the same for us.
A TRILLION DOLLARS
In Ireland, we do aspirations and mood music very well but, for all our skills and achievements, we’re not great when it comes to the ditch-digging and hod-carrying necessary to effect real change.
Look at the National Children’s Hospital.
But things have to change if we want things to stay the same.
This is not the change envisaged by the Richest Political Party in Ireland. This is at a far deeper level.
The culture of complaint and abuse has had its day. It’s time for a new model, one that prioritises action over inertia, can-do over can’t, will-do over won’t and hope and determination over cynicism, faith and fatalism.
Some would have Government resort to whip and jackboot. They’re wrong.
If you want sullen compliance and surly conformity then hectoring, bullying and authoritarianism might work.
But real, deep and lasting change is best achieved through a discursive democratic process, informed by shared interests and values and aimed at winning broad popular support for changes of policy and practice.
Some might argue that we’re so small that nothing we do will change the course of climate change.
But that would not be true, at least not yet.
According to the Climate Optimist newsletter, worldwide spending on carbon-free energy passed $1 trillion in 2022. So, global spending on clean energy now equals that on fossil fuels. It’s not game set and match, but it’s certainly progress.
Expenditure by China, the USA and the EU on the green transition has hugely increased.
Joe Biden’s administration has pumped a trillion dollars into America’s climate transition. By 2030 renewables will supply 80-90% of US electricity.
China spent €500 billion in 2022 on investments that included solar and wind energy, electric vehicles and batteries.
The EU spent €200 billion on clean energy in 2022 but acknowledges that it will need investments of more than €700 billion to meet its energy transition goals.
But while the current US administration has adopted a typical American can-do and will-do attitude towards the green transition, EU policy-making is fractious, ponderous and bureaucratic and the lag between decision and action is too long.
Perhaps we can help.
LESS TALK, MORE ACTION
Ireland wields considerable soft power in both the US and the EU. Let’s grease the wheels!
By the time we take the EU presidency in July 2026 Europe’s Green Transition should match and complement that of the US.
Of course, that means we should have our own house in order. And it needs a serious makeover: look at the development of next October’s Budget.
It’s all about sectors and silos. In a populist culture, everyone wants their slice and it’s extremely difficult for a coalition government to agree an order of priority.
We need to streamline planning and delivery, emphasising strategic direction and culture rather than box-ticking.
In this, we should study what’s happening in France, where they have embraced sustainability with gusto.
In addition to new environmental policies they have established a Ministry for Ecological Transition. By the end of 2024 their 25,000 most senior civil servants will have been trained in the principles behind the ecological transition.
By 2027 every public sector worker will have had this training, focusing on their specialist sector.
Now that’s going to have a major effect on decisions and policies!
If we did it here, and we should, it would mean over 350,000 citizens, each involved in public service, learning, talking and thinking about climate, resources, biodiversity in what is for them the real and immediate world.
Imagine the multiplier effect.
But up here on Hog Hill we think Ireland’s Government should go further and establish a new Department to oversee and co-ordinate all Government Departments with a future focus.
We’d model it on the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and attach it to either the Taoiseach or Tanaiste’s brief, to give it the status to drive an agenda and, from time to time, bang heads together.
Call it something like The Department of Strategic Leadership and Planning. That’d abbreviate to D/SLAP which might be useful!
The future is here. Time is of the essence. We need less talk, more action.
That said, no life is full without inspiration and magic. However deep the ditch to be dug, we also need our poets, philosophers and prophets, our skylarks and nightingales.
And so, in the dark nights that are to come we’ll pivot to the skies in hope of haunting sounds, fleeting flares and shooting stars and, yes, even the godless might make a wish…
– The Hog
- Lifestyle & Sports
- 11 Jul 23